Rice says his approach to the job has been threefold: to emphasize teamwork among the various parties; to confront the problems of Everglades restoration by carefully balancing the needs of the natural system with those of the urban development, agriculture, and the Native American communities; and to study solutions before applying them. While these may seem like painfully obvious strategies to most people, they are positively revolutionary for the Army Corps, which historically has been regarded as ruled more by brawn than brain. "We would come in and say, 'Tell us what the problem is.' We told you what the solution was, we did it, and then we told you to like it," chuckles Rice. Comments Nathaniel Reed: "[Rice] is the first young Army Corps of Engineers officer who fully understands what ecosystem restoration offers to the Corps, whose long history of dredging, drilling, and diking is coming to an end."
Already Rice's holistic approach to the monumental task -- arguably the largest environmental restoration project in human history -- has become a model for similar undertakings elsewhere. Representatives from foreign governments have met with Rice to study his work -- the president of Paraguay is scheduled to drop by Jacksonville soon -- and the project is the envy of Army Corps districts elsewhere: "They're calling from other districts saying, 'How'd you get this to work?'" Rice states.
Through Everglades restoration, Rice claims, the Corps is learning how to do business differently, its culture changing slowly but perceptibly. "There's no question we're pushing every environmental envelope that can be pushed," he says.
But there may be no better or more immediate measure of the military's progress than the top brass's decision on the matter of Rice's immediate future.